I went upside-down today!
The energy to do so has been building for a while now. The other week, when practicing outside at my childhood home, I had a sense of wanting to go upside-down. I moved into headstand prep a couple of times and lifted one leg and the other.
I visualized myself upside-down, standing with my heat above me in the yard.
Though I noticed that most past fear at going upside-down seemed to be absent, I hesitated at their vague whispers.
It wasn’t the right moment and I moved on in my practice.
Something in me sensed and commented internally, “you’ll do a headstand this summer”.
Going upside-down has been In my thoughts for at least the last couple of months. Not as a goal or a have-to or a must. Perhaps not even an aspiration. More of a curiosity. I could easily live my entire life without ever having gone upside-down on my own. It wasn’t something I was consciously striving towards.
Today something inside me said, “it’s today. It’s going to happen today”.
So, I listened. I took my mat to the wall in the hallway and found my foundation in my arms, head pointing down, stepping my feet in closer and feeling the backs of my legs clear and open. I lifted my hips up and felt as they stacked into place over my ribs and I floated into my first headstand.
There I was, upside-down without pressing against the wall. My breath was strong and easy, helping me stay active and sensing the posture.
It felt so effortless! It felt so easy to float up, rise up, stay up.
So effortless that I wanted to stay in the posture forever! Such a sense of ease and energy coursed through me. I couldn’t stop smiling and joy emanated around me, holding me there. All systems active. All chakras happily whirring around.
I could feel the strength of arms and the space in my shoulders (something newly created!). The back of my neck was long and open. I could feel my heart balanced, my back body strong. My lungs felt clear and able to circulate my breathe through my body. My solar plexus beaming and supporting my womb and sacrum. My legs floating overhead yet strong. My spine and entire physical body felt like it was in complete alignment.
Strong. Spacious. Effortless.
I felt light. Immense joy and light moving through me. My physical body felt light in its supported structure.
So much joy circulating and emanating.
Even then the thoughts that came up were fascinating to witness. Instantly the first thoughts surfaced trying to berate me, “I can’t believe this took you so long” and “what kind of a yoga teacher can’t do headstand?” and then the other side rushing ahead “do you think you can do this without the wall? When will that happen?”.
The thoughts subsided almost as quickly as they appeared. Only a few cycles through of each. The past and future both pulling away at the present.
I came down, rested, and kept repeating out loud soft whispers of “thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!” expressed with so much beaming that I was dancing back to my mat on the floor! Excitement. I was thanking myself and thanking the divine all around. The support and help that was here today and on the journey to get here.
As I lay in shavasana, I noticed the pull of the past and future trying to creep back in and steal away the joyful present and I looked at them and chose otherwise. I chose to stay in the joy of the moment. My heart filling, my smile bursting! It became easy to stay in the moment and to be here now. In this experience.
As the day progressed I did look back on the journey to get here.
I saw memories of the story along the way. They kept floating up to the surface.
Realizing that just a few nights ago I remembered how terrified I was at going into handstand in my teacher training. I knew I wasn’t ready and yet, up we went – with someone else helping but the flood of sensation and emotion and terror was only heightened by this pose. My arms not strong enough and my core nowhere near strong enough and it just felt painful and collapsing and weak and scary. My nervous system was haywire then and to throw a system in that state upside-down didn’t help it (at least in my case). I didn’t really make it up and quickly avoided the whole thing, hiding in fear to protect myself.
I remembered another teacher who had forced me to go upside down in her class even though I couldn’t and I came right back down in tears, trauma responses screaming.
I noticed that voice of self-judgment that rose in me a few weeks ago in a friend’s class when I chose to not go upside down into headstand, “what kind of a yoga teacher are you if you can’t do this?”. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t do it in front of another teacher. I also felt the pressure to be able to do it rising from within as I wondered what she might think of me. Fearful that meant I wasn’t good enough. Though I knew my limits and my edge.
Remembering the feeling of crunching in my shoulders and neck. So much emotion and stuck energy stored there that there was no space. I’d go into a headstand preparation and only feel the icky stuck crunchiness of my shoulders and let it turn to discomfort and pain and then come back out and be with it. There was no space. I only felt the hardness of life and carried a great deal of it on my shoulders.
Memories of the moment I learned in my restorative yoga training that that certain eye conditions were contraindications to going upside-down. I had posterior vitreous detachment so this knowledge gave me an out. “Oh, I can’t go upside-down,” I would tell people, “because of my eyes – too much pressure”. I found deep relief in having an excuse.
Last September I found out I was misdiagnosed. “Huh…. Well… there goes that excuse!”. Now I had no reason not to only I had no practice whatsoever of moving into headstand. Aside from those earlier incidents which didn’t feel safe and were full of trauma and fear.
I was a bit disappointed to not have an excuse any more. I thought I’d found a way out.
I touched on a memory in a breath workshop last October where I was receiving a treatment in front of a group to release trauma from my breath. When asked which postures I didn’t like, I said, quickly and matter-of-factly, “I don’t like to go up-side down”. This was also my way of telling the teacher “we aren’t going to do that today”. When asked why, I shied with my solar plexus caving in and my shoulders rounding and said, “it’s just too scary”. Going upside-down tipped too many emotions and sharp waves of sensations across the screen of my heart. My heart couldn’t process all that sensation then. It meant I didn’t feel safe. The feeling of not being safe was too much and my breath would match – unable to support my body.
After his kind work with me, I practiced ways of opening my heart and letting the breath come into my lungs.
Then my awareness shifted to remembering a about year ago on a dock with a fellow yoga teacher as she showed me some back-strengthening exercises. One was so difficult for me that tears released out at the unused muscles across the back of my heart and shoulders now moving into action. It was hard. It was helpful too. I cycle those practices onto my mat often, quietly building strength here and there.
I had a flash I had long forgotten: my whole right arm and right side of my back at one point felt all but gone. That was in my yoga teacher training five years ago when I was in a state of deep grief. My arm felt energetically amputated due to trauma and my body trying to shed what was “unnecessary” in order to stay alive. It was like a huge hollow void aside from one gigantic knot of energy and muscle right at the thoracic spine. The rest of my arm felt dead. Disconnected.
When my arm started reconnecting, for years, my right shoulder would fall out of place or be in intense pain. Another reason to not go upside-down. Keep my body safe. Keep my Self safe.
My shoulders and across the back of my heart and arms have been a weak spot.
As I moved through my practice in the past and noticed these different pain points, I would hear the criticisms raging up from within. I would hear my intolerance and impatience with myself. The anger at “not being able to” because my arm hurt yet again. Letting myself focus only on the suffering.
I also learned how to take care of these different pain points. I learned how to take care of myself. How to lovingly re-introduce my right arm to join the rest of me. How to notice the emotion of anger and rage stored in that shoulder. How, sometimes, when my arm separated, it was because those emotions were pouring out. They no longer needed to be stored in there. How painful and murky and dark that process often felt. How frustrated I would be with myself when my arm was in pain again. How to notice my breath and to reach out when I needed help and guidance to release more trauma from it.
Through this practice of taking care, somehow, the pain stopped being where I lived. The voices started to shift and allow the space to let myself be. To create the safety I needed internally.
The past few months and weeks I have been practicing balancing my shoulder girdle. Finding strength and space. Finding a strong foundation to balance my neck and head.
I smile again at simply knowing that today was the day.
I could easily have never gone upside-down and that wouldn’t mean I was less of a person or less of a teacher. Many people don’t have the ability to do so for whatever reason and that doesn’t make them any less. It never made me any less.
Yet there was this constant hum I can hear the memory of that was dragging me down. The constant self-criticism and judgment including “what kind of a teacher are you?”. I let my thoughts do the job of making me feel less than. It was never true.
The other week I sent a friend a note to let her know I was having strange thoughts. Crazy thoughts like “Hmmm… I’m actually pretty” and “I’m actually quite talented” and “kinda great”. These thoughts felt strange because they were contrary to the self-talk I’ve let run the show. I never believed these “strange” thoughts to be true and now… I can see the truth in them.
I can see the truth in myself.
Today was the day I went upside-down.
It felt so effortless. So much so that, in that moment, none of the effort or journey it took to get here came to mind. It also didn’t have to come to the surface, though it seemed to.
The looking back not as a measurement of where I’ve been or what I’ve been through. Not as an excuse for why I didn’t do this sooner. Or a way to make sense of it. Not out of judgment or anger with myself. This reflection and these moments that surfaced from the past have been met with understanding and love. After each recollection of struggle that appeared, I thought “I went upside-down” and immediately an infusion of joy surges through me. Every single time.
It’s as though today’s headstand is emanating healing energy and joy back in time and in this moment. Meeting those past memories and versions of myself to help them release. I no longer feel attached to the struggle or the pain in any of them. They are now infused with joy and care.
I went upside-down today and turned into a pillar of light.
Going upside-down today helped teach me that sometimes building the foundation takes time. Whether it’s taken “a long time” really isn’t possible to tell. Nor does it matter. Sometimes building the foundation doesn’t even feel like that’s what I’m doing. It’s “just” a practice.
I wasn’t ready all those times before. I wasn’t ready yesterday. No amount of pressure internally or externally would have shifted the timeline. No matter how much I pushed or tried to force myself or will it, I wasn’t ready and all those actions or thoughts of inaction only created more suffering. I had to learn to let myself not be ready yet. To learn how to create a safe space of loving care to grow into. I didn’t even know this was something I was building towards or could do. I simply kept practicing, noticing, and trusting.
The “advancement” of the practice isn’t that I went upside-down. The advancement of the practice for me is that I could learn how to live in myself and with myself. I allowed myself the time and space to heal. To learn how to get to a place where I can tolerate so much joy that it’s with me all day and doesn’t get shut down so I can return to the business of suffering. The story of suffering that I used to feel had to be the only way to live.
I can re-write my story.
Setting the foundation and opening to the joy of being.